Dalit Socialists Via Dalit Capitalists: A Response To Anand Teltumbde
This article is intended as a response to Anand Teltumbde’s Dalit Capitalism And Pseudo Dalitism on Countercurrents dated 7th March, 2011
Fanon writes in The Wretched of the Earth that in colonies, a person is rich because he is white and he is white because he is rich. Simply put, the superstructure is the base. Stretching this analysis to India, one can argue that a Dalit is poor because she is untouchable and she is untouchable because she is poor. In a society like ours where hierarchy receives ritual sanction and operates via the medium of not only religion, but also language, social customs, morality and of course, the state, social capital determines economic capital. Nay, social capital is economic capital. If one has a glance at the top 50 ‘dollar billionaires’ in India one finds that there are 2-3 OBC’s in the list. No Dalits at all. Most of the rest are brahmins or baniyas. Is this capitalism in the classical sense?
Of course as Mr. Teltumbde says “capital does not have race, religion, caste, creed or even country.” But the capitalist has. What is capital without the capitalist? What struggle against capitalism can be successful unless it is directed against the face, all too human face, that embodies it? If we were to purely study the structure of capital subtracting the human agency that drives it one would just drive down an Althusserian blind alley. No. Capitalism has a human face and it is shaped by the thoughts, opinions and prejudices of the actor. In India, the face of the capitalist is the face of his caste.
Since Mr. Teltumbde is an avowed Marxist, I presume that he believes that socialism follows/should follow capitalism. Presuming that he is a Leninist, I believe that he would agree that the working class requires its organic intellectuals both in and out of a revolutionary party. In the history of Marxist intellectuals, very rarely have there been any who have actually emerged from an authentic proletarian background. They were bourgeois or petty-bourgeois who gave themselves up intellectually to the cause of the working class. India will be no exception to this. Where India will be an exception is that the caste of the intellectual will matter as much as, probably more than, his class. Here I would ask Mr. Teltumbde to look at various Marxist intellectuals in the country and their caste-class background. One does find a alarmingly high percentage of upper-caste adherents to a philosophy that intends to break all hierarchies. This not at all to doubt the intentions of the political actors concerned. Of course, various Maoist party intellectuals like Anuradha and Kobad Ghandy have taken genuine efforts to deal with caste. Yet, the question is why so many of them to analyse an experience that they can never feel? Can’t the subaltern think?
A partial answer lies here. We are dealing with a class of intellectuals that have had a middle class and bourgeois background to which the social capital of caste did contribute. Being literate sections for generations (rarely performing the gruelling tasks of manual labour), they have had access to a decent standard of education both at schools and more importantly, at home, besides day to day interaction in a more sophisticated intellectual culture. The texts of Marxism are not far from the reach of those that can read a text. Only the intention is required and the resources are given. But the void of Dalit and backward caste intellectuals in Marxism is precisely due to the fact that the social conditions around their caste rarely provide them the cultural and economic resources for them to first get a decent education and concurrently engage with and absorb a philosophy that changes them into conscious actors. Crudely put, the lack of a sizeable petit-bourgeois and bourgeois class of Dalits reflects on their minimal representation in Marxist circles.
Which is why Dalit Capitalism needs to be welcomed albeit partially. It does have its flaws in that the involved actors do consider it as the final stage of Dalit liberation, which is, of course, an act of bad faith. But there is always the possibility of positive effects on members of the community, let us say, the children of the Dalit capitalist, relatives or friends who might become beneficiaries out of a sense of caste solidarity of the Dalit capitalist. More Dalits get access to education and a different culture that they were previously denied. From here on, it is a matter of choice on what politics they seek to enter. But when they do enter, they enter not as objects, but as knowing subjects adding their experiences, their knowledge, their visions to a theoretical framework. One cannot expect that all might make the right choice, that is, the left choice. But the opportunity should be given to them to choose their political and intellectual destinies.
In Philosophy of Hinduism, Ambedkar writes that genuine liberty must be accompanied by three factors (I) Social equality (II) Economic security (III) Universal knowledge. We know that none of these are available in India for the Dalits. We can argue that economic security, even if it is for a miniscule number of Dalit capitalists, can and will open up possibilities for knowledge accumulation for a greater number, which consequently open up newer avenues for Dalit actors in movements for social equality. Caste is not just a social category. It is an experience. Unless you have representation from all caste groups to articulate those experiences in theory and execute them in revolutionary praxis what one would actually end with, I fear, is a group of upper castes performing the revolution, their revolution, in the name of the backward castes and the Dalits. The point is this: Dalit capitalism needn’t be glorified the way its protagonists have for it is not an end in itself. Yet, it needn’t be denounced the way Mr. Teltumbde does.